A lawyer has urged CONEL students to challenge society’s views on race and gender after highlighting the barriers she faced as a black, working class woman. Denise Stephenson shared her journey from growing up on a council estate in Harlesden to becoming a partner in a law firm during a live chat to celebrate International Women’s Day. Under the title ‘Overcoming Despite the Odds’, she shared her story in an online video chat.

Denise worked for Sharpe Pritchard Solicitors for 14 years and has also been employed in planning and legal teams at Royal Mail’s Legal and Compliance Team, Camden and Westminster Councils and at RadcliffesLeBrasseur LLP.

She told how her headteacher at school encouraged her to pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer, but the route to law for Denise was a ‘painful process”, where she encountered bullying and racism.

She said: “If you’re from a lower socio-economic background and/or a black woman you will come across a lot of adversity and barriers, so you’re going to have to dig in and find your resilience.”

Denise recalled how on one occasion, whilst she was a partner, a colleague tugged her braided hair extensions and asked if it was rope, and at another time, during a training session of Commissioners, one of the attendees openly asked whether she was a tea lady.

She said: “What happened to me really highlighted the problems that exist within law firms and barristers’ chambers, where they recruit people who are reflective of them, and I just think ‘How is this right?’”

Her experience prompted her to launch her own charity ROK (Reach Out 2 Kids) to support and encourage children and young people from BAME and low-income families, in their career aspirations.

Denise said: “There is a volume of talent out there and companies are missing them, which is part of the reason I set up ROK. I don’t want young people to have to go through the pain I and many people like me, went through just because of where they come from.”

She recalled how when she first attended planning inquiries (equivalent of court proceedings) she was almost always the only black person in the room and while much had changed, there is still a long way to go.

“We have to keep pushing and challenging the order of things and keep standing firm and saying I’m here and I’m not going anywhere,” she said.

Denise concluded by referring to this year’s International Women’s Day theme of Choose to Challenge and urged students to challenge the status quo. She asked them to question why there are not more women in the boardroom and why children from black and low-income families do not get the same opportunities as many of their white peers.

She said: “We can make such a difference, each and every one of us, both men and women, but I think as women we need to be encouraged to do that and have the strength and character to do that, by tapping into our inner selves and believing who we are and what we can do.

City and Islington College – one of London’s largest further education colleges – is offering school leavers the opportunity to study A Levels in Enfield this September. A first for the area, CANDI’s new Sixth Form Hub will be based at the Enfield Centre of its sister college, the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London on Hertford Road.

Students will be able to study A Levels in English Literature, History, Psychology, Sociology, Maths, Chemistry, Biology and Physical Education along with an Extended Project Qualification worth half an A Level.

They will also have the option of studying two A Levels at Enfield and one of 20 other A Levels at CANDI’s Sixth Form College at Angel in central London, timetable permitting. 

Alternatively, they can study for an A Level plus a vocational qualification at Enfield, such as an Engineering Level 3 Extended Diploma – these are worth up to three A Levels and are accepted by many universities for degree courses. Further information about these options will be provided to applicants at interview.

Lessons in Enfield will be taught by highly qualified teaching staff from the Sixth Form College where 100 students from Enfield are currently studying for their A Levels.

CANDI A Level students Nellie Castara and Yanique Edwards, who are both 17 and live in Enfield, said they would have applied to the Hub if it had been available when they left school.

Nellie said: “I am really enjoying all my subjects at CANDI. It’s going really well. The teachers are friendly and very supportive and give me extra help if I’m struggling. If I could have studied with CANDI in Enfield, I would have.”

Yanique added: “I would definitely have taken my A Levels with CANDI in Enfield as its closer to home. The teaching and support I have had from the college has helped me a lot.”

As well as offering its new range of A Level courses, the Enfield Centre boasts superb sports facilities including a floodlit all-weather football pitch, grass pitches, sports hall, fully equipped gym and changing rooms.

It is also home to CONEL’s Football, Martial Arts and Basketball Academies run in partnership with Fulham FC, Spiral Sports and the London School of Basketball, which have produced championship winning teams and medallists in national competitions.

Students at the new CANDI Sixth Form Hub will be able to join these academies and benefit from the sports facilities at Enfield. They will also be able to benefit from both colleges’ enrichment programmes including careers advice, student ambassador scheme, clubs and societies, internships and mentoring opportunities, fundraising campaigns and celebratory events.

Executive Principal Kurt Hintz said: “We are really excited to bring CANDI A Levels to Enfield. Our research told us that many CANDI students who live in Enfield were keen to study at CONEL because of its excellent sports academies, but turned the college down because it did not offer A Levels.

“We’ve been considering this for some time and are delighted that we can now offer CANDI’s excellent A Levels at the CONEL Enfield Centre. Students will have access to the same high-quality teaching and enrichment, and can even split their time between Enfield and Angel to get the best of both centres in the mix of A Levels they choose.”

A dad of five has told how he returned to college to finally fulfil his dream of going to university after giving up education to look after his family.

Karl John-Jules, 35, is studying for a BSc (Hons) Computer Science at the University of East London after completing an Access to Higher Education Diploma in Computing at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL).

When he left school, Karl enrolled on an IT course at college but did not complete it. By the time he was 18 he had switched courses to study for a sports diploma, during which time his girlfriend gave birth to a baby girl in the summer of 2004.

“When I started the IT course it was always my intention to continue my education at university,” said Karl.

“But my plan to go to university changed dramatically when I felt the responsibility of being a father and having to provide financially for a baby. I managed to complete the sports course after a year of many up and downs when my daughter was born.”

The couple had a second child, another girl, two years later and they continued supporting their young family while on a low income. They later split up but continued to share the financial and emotional responsibility of bring up their two children.

Karl said: “Living away from them was difficult, especially financially because it meant supporting two homes. But I always maintained that even if I am old and grey, I would continue my education one way or another.”

Karl, from Dagenham, met his current partner Sabrina in 2012 after buying his first house with financial support from his parents.

The couple were working for different high street banks and Sabrina already had a child from a previous relationship. They set up home together and had a son of their own two years after getting together and had another child in 2017.

Sabrina was now working for the Financial Ombudsman Service. She decided not to return to work after maternity leave and returned to education. Karl was working in housing at Hackney Council at the time and supported the family during her studies.

Karl proposed to Sabrina while visiting her sister on holiday in Thailand in 2019. One night in Bangkok she asked if he still wanted to pursue his dream of going to university and they began looking at universities and undergraduate courses.

“I was hesitant and very anxious as I was so used to taking care of the bills and going to work, but Sabrina assured me we’d be okay just like we had been when she relied on me,” he said.

Karl discovered he did not have the academic or work requirements to enrol as a mature student on a degree course and so he quit his £30,000 a year council job and applied for the Access to Higher Education Diploma at CONEL – starting his course in 2019. He completed the course and returned to CONEL to study a free short course in cybersecurity alongside his degree in 2020.

He said: “I looked at several courses and although there was a college on my doorstep, CONEL won my heart from the beginning. The college arranged for me to sit the required entry tests around my work hours and from that point on I’ve never looked back.

“The teaching was first class. The tutors would open up the class to debate, which was so important for our learning. It enabled me to embed the knowledge so deep and meant I already knew a lot of the things when I started university.”

Karl is expected to graduate in 2023 and hopes to work in software engineering and development and later become a consultant on cybersecurity.

“I have had many stresses and challenges – kids, mortgage, bills – like everyone else, but I always believed in myself and I am now studying for a degree at university. My only regret is not doing it sooner.”

Access to Higher Education Diploma courses provide adults without traditional qualifications with the skills and knowledge to study at university.

Kalpesh Sagar, Lecturer in ICT, said: “Karl was an excellent student. He was committed to the course and encouraged his peers to do the same. He took on the added responsibility of being his class representative and naturally led groups in project work. It was clear his hard work and dedication would result him achieving high grades, which have earned him a place at university.”

and I am delighted is continuing to do well a university and wish him every success in the future.”

Click here for Access to Higher Education Diploma courses.

Click here to apply for IT and Computing courses.

A personal trainer says “it’s never too late” to return to education after being inspired to become a college sport and fitness tutor when her business was forced to close during the pandemic.

Paulina Ungurianu, 39, ran Elite Sports Rehabilitation at The Lansdowne Club, a private members club in Mayfair, for two years before it was hit by the impact of the COVID crisis.

The single mum provided personal training, injury rehabilitation and sports massage once a week at the club while also working as a Physical Activity Co-ordinator at Homerton Hospital in Hackney.

Despite moving much of the business online, she decided to change careers and is now studying for a Professional Graduate Certificate in Education and Training at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL).

As part of her course, Paulina has been working as a part-time Lecturer in Sport at the college where she has been teaching free short courses in massage, physiology and nutrition.

She said: “Business was good until the pandemic came along and it had to close. However, I was able to teach from home and do personal training and rehabilitation sessions on Zoom to help pay my mortgage and provide a decent lifestyle for my children.”

“I am passionate about sports and wanted to inspire others. I wanted to give something back and share my knowledge by teaching the subject I know best. I love seeing people succeed and improving their lives, and my tutors at CONEL have given me the confidence that I can do it.”

Paulina, who lives in Romford, came to the UK from Romania in 2005 and married three years later. She began studying a fitness instruction course while working as a waitress and pregnant with her son Luca.

In 2011 she had had a second child, Victoria and studied to be a personal trainer and would run fitness sessions in evenings and at weekends while her then husband looked after their children.

Paulina progressed to an Access to Higher Education Diploma in Sport and secured a place at the University of East London and took out a student loan to cover the cost of her studies.

Despite the break-up of her marriage while at university, she went on to gain a first class honours degree in Sports Therapy, and was named Sports Therapy Student of the Year in 2017.

During this time Paulina was still working long shifts and weekends in her role with the NHS and as a Personal Trainer at Aquilla Health and Fitness at The Rembrandt Hotel in South Kensington.

“It was very difficult as I was having to pay my mortgage and for a live-in nanny, and in the final year of my degree my mum moved to the UK to help with looking after my children,” said Paulina.

“There were days when I was only sleeping three hours a night. I knew the hard work and tiredness would not last forever, and when I graduated my family’s life would improve. I wanted to be independent and be able to support my kids financially, take them on nice holidays and be a good role model to them.”

While studying at university, Paulina volunteered to provide sports massage for the London Marathon in 2016 and at the IAAF World Championships and World Para Athletics Championships at the London Stadium in 2017.

She also undertook a work placement as an Assistant Sports Therapist at Hornchurch Football Club.

After graduating, Paulina began volunteering physiotherapy support for the charity Football Aid, which has given her the chance to meet sporting legends including Chelsea and Italy forward Gianfranco Zola.

“I think it’s never too late to return to education and mature students should be encourage and helped to do so, and I would encourage anyone to do the same, even if you’re a mum with kids” said Paulina.

“We often underestimate the power of mentoring and guidance. Just the simple fact that someone believes in you and gives you that chance to prove that you can do it, can make such a difference to your future.

“I am extremely proud of what I have achieved and looking forward to the challenges ahead. I feel fully equipped to cope with whatever comes my way. I hope my story will inspire others and help them achieve their goals. If I can do it, anyone can.”

Click here to apply for Teacher Education courses.

Click here to apply for Sport and Fitness courses.